Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deutscher Wald

Ah, those Germans and their woods! Yesterday I read an article in our local Badische Zeitung (BZ) about the German woods without a word about Waldsterben. As the mystical and historical aspects of our woods were only briefly touched upon allow me to enlarge a little bit on this, mentioning only those woods that come to my mind right away: The Teutoburg Woods where Arminius beat the Romans thus depriving our ancestors of Latin culture. The Western Woods with cold winds always blowing. The Vienna Woods where Crown Prince Rudolph killed his mistress and then himself. The Saxon Woods with old Bismarck grumbling about our last and least Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Ardennes Woods and the Third Reich's final offensive on the western front before Germany was cut into pieces.

Deep in the woods, lost and hungry: Hänsel and Gretel
approaching the witch's house made out of gingerbread.
Not to forget the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tale Woods, huge and dark, where people are always lost, are either eaten by bears and wolves or meet friendly dwarfs or wicked witches. You must remember this, A kiss is still a kiss, but also, It's the same old story, A fight for love and glory when a poor but clever guy liberates a beautiful princess in a haunted castle hidden deep in the woods and wanting to marry her. Father King does not like the idea and puts the young man under stress with three usually unsolvable problems. Using witchcraft or some other tricks the nobody eventually succeeds and becomes heir to the throne. The young people live happily thereafter until they die or if they did not die they still live on today.

Enough of those atavistic reflections. Let me rather dig into the BZ article entitled: The trees and we. What I learned was that German attachment to their woods dates back to the Middle Ages where arable farmland was scarce and generally insufficient to feed the families with many children given the poor agricultural yield in those times. There was no room for pastureland thus farmers drove horses, cows, and pigs into the woods to look for their food. Those pigs were particularly happy. For lunch, they ate acorns and beechnuts, dug for cockchafer grubs for dinner and closed their meal with truffles.

The woods generally belonged to the nobles who charged the farmers rental for their use. Whilst in the beginning only a few Pfennigs sufficed in later years the owner asked for more so that the expression Schweinegeld (pigs’ money) was coined and today still means that something is very expensive.

The noble class took good care of their woods as hunting grounds. A good example is the Prussian king’s deer garden that once stretched in Berlin from the Brandenburg Gate to Charlottenburg Palace. The Tiergarten became public when during the 1848 Revolution people got the right to smoke there in public. Were the authorities at that time more liberal than today?

Most of our woods were spared in the 19th century as, contrary to England, the Industrial Revolution in Germany came later and coal from the Ruhr satisfied the need for heat. A notable exception is the Black Forest where glass-works and smelting demanded enormous amounts of wood. The Baden people, however, were clever and soon started a program of afforestation.

Another important use of wood was and still is housing. Although building in stone diminishes the fire risk, in the past, only those people who were steinreich (stone rich) could afford to build stone houses.

1 comment:

  1. Today (27 July 2010) I read in the Badische Zeitung a modern Version of Hänsel und Gretel. Hänsel (6) and Gretel (12) couldn't bear their permanently quarreling parents anymore. One day they left home early in the morning. When they didn't show up the police started looking for them. After an extended search the cops eventually liberated them from a fast food restaurant where they were eating burgers instead of gingerbread.
    Red Baron